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Is It Wise To Back The Predators?
Should you put your money on the first-time finalists?
By Bob Duff
The Nashville Predators are the first 16th overall team to reach the Stanley Cup final. In fact, since the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967, the Predators are the first bottom overall seed to reach the Cup final. And they are facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to boot.
Should you give Nashville any chance at all to win the Cup? Absolutely you should. The Predators aren't the favorites, but you'd be foolish to overlook them, because Stanley Cup history suggests that they definitely could win this thing.
Here are three reasons why the Predators could most certainly be worth a wager at those prices:
First Time Lucky
The Predators are the 24th NHL team to make their first Stanley Cup final appearance. If your are keeping track at home, that leaves the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets as the only current teams without a trip to the final. Eight of the previous 24 managed to win the Cup.
The first NHL expansion team to get to the Cup final series and win was the 1925-26 Montreal Maroons, and they shared several traits with the Predators. They were strong in goal with future Hall of Famer Clint Benedict and on defense, where Reg Noble, another bound for the Hall, held forth. In Eddie Gerard, the Maroons had a coach similar to Nashville's Peter Laviolette in that he was rich in Stanley Cup experience. And like the Preds, the Maroons faced the defending Cup champs, the Victoria Cougars.
Of all teams, the Penguins, who bounced the Minnesota North Stars in 1991, also won in their first trip to the Cup final. Both the Pens and Maroons possessed a quality that is lacking in Nashville, however. Each of those teams was deep with players who'd previously won the Cup with other teams. No Nashville player has even won the Stanley Cup.
Defense And Goaltending
If you are looking for an area where the Preds hold a significant edge on the Penguins, the blueline crew is it. Nashville goes four deep in quality defenders who can deliver the goods at both ends of the ice in Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Pittsburgh's best defenseman, Kris Letang, has missed the entire playoffs following back surgery and the Penguins made it this far despite deploying a patchwork back end.
The advantage in in goal is not as significant but it is there. Preds goalie Pekka Rinne leads the playoffs in both save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.70). Pittsburgh has used the combo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, and since Murray took over, his GAA (1.35) and save percentage (.946) numbers are actually better than Rinne's digits.
Pittsburgh Is Nashville's Role Model
A year ago, nobody gave the Penguins a chance. In fact, as late as mid-December of 2015, the Penguins weren't even a playoff team. But they were among the NHL's hottest teams in the second half and kept rolling through the playoffs.
That's the formula that the Predators have followed. Nashville was 18-16-6 on Jan. 10, and then went 23-13-5 the rest of the way to qualify for the playoffs. The Predators have continued to get better through the playoffs and have lost just one home game in the postseason.
Discount them at your own peril, because it could come back to bite you.
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